Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cousineau home after Afghan tour

Master Bombardier Nathan Cousineau is getting used to being “consistently not busy” upon returning home last week from a five-month stint in Afghanistan, where he had the experience of a lifetime yet also saw a lot of heartache.
“It’s a mixed experience for sure,” noted the 25-year-old Fort Frances native, who is a member of 116th Independent Field Battery Royal Canadian Artillery in Kenora Army Reserve.

“There was a lot of good but you also see a lot of bad,” he recalled.
“But overall, I appreciated the experience and what I was doing there.”
Cousineau, who was deployed to Afghanistan in September as part of Op Attention Roto 3–Mission Closure Team, worked primarily at the Kabul International Airport.
“We were generally responsible for shipping and receiving freight,” he explained, noting there were lots of things being shipped out of the country.
“There is so much infrastructure that Canada has set up so there was a lot of stuff leaving the country,” he remarked.
“Huge shipping containers in huge aircrafts—everything from tools to vehicles to heavy-duty equipment.
“Everything that could be brought home was,” he added.
Cousineau’s secondary duties there included community outreach.
“The specific program was called ‘Operation Outreach,’” he said. “There was a lot of volunteering and we would visit sick people in the hospital—a lot of times they housed children.
“About a half-dozen of us would go a couple times a week, with toys, hygiene products, and just pay attention to them,” he recounted.
“It’s pretty lonely there so we’d give them some extra attention.
“You could tell they enjoyed it and we did, too,” Cousineau added, also citing the poverty he saw while serving there.
“It’s hard to describe,” he admitted. “But it certainly makes you realize how nice it is in Fort Frances, despite the snow and cold.”
Cousineau, the son of Ernie and Janine Cousineau who joined the army reserve in 2005 when he was in Grade 11 at Fort High, had never been deployed overseas before but indicated it was just like he expected.
“We trained really effectively and I’m very confident in the training I’ve received with the Canadian Forces throughout my career, but especially . . . [the] training coming into this,” he remarked.
“The decade plus of fighting in Afghanistan has brought our standard really high.”
Cousineau noted, however, that it was hard to be away from home at Christmas time, but that a “Skype” chat with students at St. Francis School and his family sure helped.
“That was really cool, really neat,” he enthused. “I actually just got time to look at all the stuff they made me.
“It’s so big and it’s so impressive. It was nice.
“It was a big part of what made Christmas fun for me,” Cousineau added, noting the soldiers in Afghanistan celebrated the holiday, as well.
“We went to a neighbouring camp that housed British and Canadian soldiers,” he recalled. “We had our ‘Canadian’ day on Christmas Eve, and had festivities and candy and carolling.
“Carolling with the Brits was really neat,” he added. “I had never done that before so that was a really fun experience.
“Then we had turkey the next day.”
Cousineau said Remembrance Day also was a noteworthy event overseas.
“It was a big deal,” he stressed. “The ceremony was conducted by the Australians. There were Germans, Turks, Brits.
“It was really surreal to get a room of soldiers like that together.
“That was pretty amazing,” he said, though noting the ceremony at the airport wasn’t very fancy.
“But it was interesting see Germans and English people sitting on both sides of you, and they are remembering the war they both fought against each other,” he explained.
“We don’t get that here in Fort Frances.”
Due to the Kabul airport being an international port, Cousineau spent time with soldiers of all nationalities—from Mongolians and Jordanians to Turks and Americans.
“You get to meet different people and what they have to offer,” he reasoned. “And you get the idea, too, that we all value the same things when it boils down to it.”
Now that he’s home, Cousineau is hoping to get back into substitute teaching and taking time to enjoy not being busy.
“There are no days off over there,” he stressed. “You eat when you can and do what you got to do.
“Not to say that there wasn’t down town because there was, it’s just that . . . nothing was consistent.
“Now I’m consistently not doing anything,” he chuckled.
Cousineau also is going to continue his training with the Canadian Forces in Kenora.
“There are definitely possibilities to go elsewhere in Canada continuing on what I’ve been doing,” he noted, saying he really would like to go “up north” to the Arctic.
“They have a . . . weather station, scientific stuff, up there,” he said. “So if I could get a job up there, I’d be really satisfied with where my career is going.
“They do six months at a time and that would be the tops for me.
“It’s just an employment opportunity that you don’t get in mainstream life,” he reasoned.
Though he won’t have an opportunity to be deployed overseas again anytime soon, Cousineau said he’d certainly consider it in the future.
“I would have liked to say [in Afghanistan] longer,” he admitted. “But home is always the best place for me.”

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